Soft Idli recipe (South Indian steamed rice cakes) | How to make idli & dosa batter in the mixer grinder

Idlis are steamed rice cakes made by steaming a fermented batter of rice and black lentils. Sometimes fenugreek seeds are also added as it helps in fermentation and imparts a nice aroma to the batter. Idlis are a staple breakfast in most South Indian households. It is perfect with podi (spiced powder), a spicy chutney, piping hot sambar and along with filter coffee, breakfast is sorted!

I have to admit, I love South Indian food to the core. I could live on it every day. Masala dosa’s, idli sambar, puri bhaji were a weekly staple in Mumbai until I moved here to the US. Unfortunately, there aren’t any restaurants here in my little town that offer South Indian cuisine. So like most things, I had to learn how to prepare them, to satisfy my idli and dosa cravings.

My quest for making idlis began in 2014, the year we moved to the US. I tried various recipes from the web. The end result- big batches of batter down the drain. It’s not that the recipes were at fault, but it somehow went awry all the time. I definitely had to be doing something wrong! The idlis would turn out pasty, so inedible !!


For me, it all started with using the wrong rice in the first place. Secondly, I would use split urad dal, which further worsened the problem resulting in a very poor volume of the batter. Third,  I added very little water for grinding the batter. All of these yielded me the most disastrous idlis!

The idli batter can be used for making dosa’s too by thinning the batter down. But that was a pretty unsuccessful attempt & never yielded me good results either. The batter would stick to the skillet and a host of other issues followed.

I was determined not to give up. I was more intrigued as to how to get this right. And I was glad to have stumbled upon this site that provided some really great tips, which have helped me make successful idlis, and eventually, dosas too. Idlis, stuffed idlis, plain dosa, cheese dosa, masala dosa et al, are a breeze to pull off now. I’m finally at peace now that I can whip some idlis, whenever we wish to indulge in some South Indian fare.

So the basic problem of making idlis starts if you don’t have a stone wet grinder. What’s the difference between a stone wet grinder and a regular mixer for grinding the batter? Here’s are some basic pointers-

  • Wet-grinders use stone for grinding, and mixer uses a blade for grinding.
  • One of the most important things for grinding idli batter- Aeration, it is what gives a nice volume to the urad dal batter, which can be easily achieved in a stone wet grinder, due to its wide-open mouth, it gives volume to the urad dal batter. That is not the case in a mixer grinder, the design and volume of a stone grinder and mixer grinder are completely different.
  • Make sure to have sufficient space inside the mixer jar in order to get some volume for the urad dal. Always grind in batches. Do not stuff the entire urad dal in one go.

It took me this long to share a post on idli on the blog because I wanted to make sure I share a fail-proof procedure. I’ve tried and tested this a little too much, that I think it’s time to share it with you guys! After lots of trial & errors, at the cost of sounding boastful, I can safely say, I do make good, pillow-y, soft idlis, and crisp dosas! Friends & family totally vouch for it 🙂

Below is a detailed stepwise pictorial that demonstrates the procedure of grinding and fermenting the batter (in the mixer grinder). I’ve covered up points like-

  • Soaking times for rice and dal
  • Amount of water to be used for grinding
  • How long to grind for
  • Process of fermenting the batter

You should have successful results with all these details, please go through all the steps carefully. All I can say is, with practice eventually you will master the skill of making really good idlis 🙂 Patience is the key!

It is best to make idlis on the first day, you can make dosa and uttapam the following day.

Check out these accompaniments to serve along with these soft and fluffy idlis

This image is inspired by Reem Khan, one of our foodie group members, whom we fondly call as Reem di. I fell in love with the pic when she posted it and created my version of the same 🙂

Step by step instructions

1.Rinse the idli rice well, soak in about 5 cups of filtered water, preferably 8 hours or at least 4 hours.

2.One hour before you begin to grind the batter, wash and drain the urad dal about 2-3 times. Soak the urad dal with enough water, about 3-4 cups of filtered water. Also, soak the fenugreek seeds along with the dal.

3.Just 15 minutes before you begin grinding the dal and rice, soak poha in sufficient filtered water. Then drain, squeeze excess water and add it to the rice whilst grinding.

4.After the specified soaking time, drain the urad dal & methi (reserve the water for grinding). Add ice cubes to the reserved water, plus use more filtered water as required for grinding, add ice cubes to that as well.

  • Transfer 1/2 of the drained urad dal to your grinder/mixer along with 1/2 cup water, run the mixer on the lowest speed for 30 seconds.
  • Open the lid and let the jar rest for another 30 seconds.
  • Add another 1/2 cup water, cover the mixer and grind for another 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the grinding process 2 to 3 times more if required with a resting time of 30 seconds, the batter should be fluffy and smooth. Do not let the mixer heat up. (I ground the batter in 2 batches & used a total of 2 cups ice cold reserved water). Transfer this batter to a large vessel, with sufficient volume as the batter will rise during fermentation.

5.Next, drain the rice, and grind along with poha or cooked rice in the mixer to a slightly coarse batter, adding little water as required. (I ground the rice in 3 batches and used a total of 1 & 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup ice cold reserved water per batch. Follow the same procedure of grinding the rice, grind 30 seconds then rest for 30 seconds, repeat one more time.) Do not add too much water in one go. When you touch the batter, you should feel tiny rice granules. Do not grind to a smooth batter. Transfer this batter to the vessel containing the urad dal batter.

6.Add salt and whisk the batter for 2-3 minutes. Incorporate the batters using clean hands. The final batter must be thick and flowy, not watery and runny. Add salt only while you mix the batter with hands, not when you are grinding the rice and urad dal. Cover with a lid and keep aside in a warm place to ferment overnight. (I switch on the oven to 170 degrees F for 10 minutes, then turn it off, switch on the oven light and let the batter ferment in the warm oven. The warmth of the oven light also aids in fermentation). If you do not have a big vessel, you can divide the batter into two containers/vessels.

7.Next morning, give the fermented batter one or two gentle swirls. Do not mix it vigorously. It took a total of 15 hours to ferment the batter in this chilly winter, I think it was 3 degrees C the day I made this batter. During the summer it should ferment in 8 hours. If your batter did not rise to the brim or didn’t even overflow, it doesn’t mean that your batter did not ferment. To check, take a ladle full of batter from the vessel, if the batter in the vessel has air bubbles and you can feel the fermented smell then your batter is ready to use.

8.Bring water to a simmer in the idli steamer. Pour spoonful’s of batter into greased idli molds.

9.Steam it for about 10-12 minutes. Insert a toothpick or knife in one of the idlis to check if it is done. They are done when the toothpick comes out clean. Unmold the idlis using a butter knife or a spoon. Repeat the same procedure for other idli batches. Serve hot with sambar, coconut chutney, and podi.

Notes, tips & tricks…

  1. Do not let the mixer heat up whilst grinding the batter. When the batter heats up, it does not ferment well as the heat kills the good bacteria in the batter. Hence ice cold water helps to avoid that to an extent. At any point, if you feel your mixer is heating up, simply stop and let it cool down and continue.
  2. I have gotten really good results with this 1.5 : 3 :: urad dal: rice ratio. However, if the urad dal quality is good, 1: 4:: urad dal: rice works well too.
  3. The quality of urad dal is another important factor for a successful fermentation. Make sure your urad dal is fresh or not from an old batch.
  4. In order to give volume to the batter, urad dal is soaked just for a shorter period.
  5. Do not use split urad dal, it will not give the required volume to the batter.
  6. Do not go stingy on the water, the water proportions that I have mentioned have always given me good results. I do not know how much water would be required to grind the batter in a stone wet grinder as I have never worked with one. But if you use a mixer grinder these water proportions should work fine. Still, it is always good to add water gradually, since the quality of rice and dal differs.
  7. During the winters if you want your batter to ferment quicker, you can add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp baking soda or powder to the batter, before fermenting it, i.e. in step 6.
  8. Fenugreek does 3 things-
  • Helps in fermentation.
  • It gives a nice aroma to the batter which in turn passes to the aroma of the idli and dosa.
  • Imparts a nice golden color to the dosas.

Measuring cup used, 1 cup = 250 ml,  1 tsp = 5 ml

Idli (South Indian steamed rice cakes)

Idli (South Indian steamed rice cakes)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups idli rice / parboiled rice
  • 1.25 to 1.5 cup whole urad dal / urad dal gota (skinless whole black lentils)
  • 1 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
  • 1/2 cup thick poha / cooked rice
  • 1 tbsp salt or to taste

Instructions

  1. Rinse the idli rice well, soak in about 5 cups of filtered water, preferably 8 hours or at least 4 hours.
  2. One hour before you begin to grind the batter, wash and drain the urad dal about 2-3 times. Soak the urad dal with enough water, about 3-4 cups of filtered water. Also, soak the fenugreek seeds along with the dal.
  3. Just 15 minutes before you begin grinding the dal and rice, soak poha in sufficient filtered water. Then drain, squeeze excess water and add it to the rice whilst grinding.
  4. After the specified soaking time, drain the urad dal & methi (reserve the water for grinding). Add ice cubes to the reserved water, plus use more filtered water as required for grinding, add ice cubes to that as well. Transfer 1/2 of the drained urad dal to your grinder/mixer along with 1/2 cup water, run the mixer on the lowest speed for 30 seconds. Open the lid and let the jar rest for another 30 seconds. Add another 1/2 cup water, cover the mixer and grind for another 30 seconds. Repeat the grinding process 2 to 3 times more if required with a resting time of 30 seconds, the batter should be fluffy and smooth. Do not let the mixer heat up. (I ground the batter in 2 batches & used about 2 cups ice cold reserved water). Transfer this batter to a large vessel, with sufficient volume as the batter will rise during fermentation If you do not have a big vessel, you can divide the batter into two containers/vessels.
  5. Next, drain the rice, and grind along with poha or cooked rice in the mixer to a slightly coarse batter, adding little water as required. (I ground the rice in 3 batches and used a total of 1 & 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup ice cold reserved water per batch. Follow the same procedure of grinding the rice, grind 30 seconds then rest for 30 seconds, repeat one more time.) Do not add too much water in one go. When you touch the batter, you should feel tiny rice granules. Do not grind to a smooth batter. Transfer this batter to the vessel containing the urad dal batter.
  6. Add salt and whisk the batter for 2-3 minutes. Incorporate the batters using clean hands. The final batter must be thick and flowy, not watery and runny. Add salt only while you mix the batter with hands, not when you are grinding the rice and urad dal. Cover with a lid and keep aside in a warm place to ferment overnight. (I switch on the oven to 170 degrees F for 10 minutes, then turn it off, switch on the oven light and let the batter ferment in the warm oven. The warmth of the oven light also aids in fermentation.)
  7. Next morning, give the fermented batter one or two gentle swirls. Do not mix it vigorously. It took a total of 15 hours to ferment the batter in this chilly winter, I think it was 3 degrees C the day I made this batter. During the summer it should ferment in 8 hours. If your batter did not rise to the brim or didn't even overflow, it doesn't mean that your batter did not ferment. To check, take a ladle full of batter from the vessel, if the batter in the vessel has air bubbles and you can feel the fermented smell then your batter is ready to use.
  8. Bring water to a simmer in the idli steamer. Pour spoonful's of batter into greased idli molds.
  9. Steam it for about 10-12 minutes. Insert a toothpick in one of the idlis to check them. They are done when the toothpick comes out clean. Unmold the idlis using a butter knife or a spoon. Repeat the same procedure for other idli batches. Serve hot with sambar, coconut chutney, and podi.

Notes

1. Do not let the mixer heat up whilst grinding the batter. When the batter heats up, it does not ferment well as the heat kills the good bacteria in the batter. Hence ice cold water helps to avoid that to an extent. At any point, if you feel your mixer is heating up, simply stop and let it cool down and continue.

2. I have gotten really good results with this 1.5 : 3 :: urad dal: rice ratio. However, if the urad dal quality is good, 1: 4:: urad dal: rice works well too.

3. The quality of urad dal is another important factor for a successful fermentation. Make sure your urad dal is fresh or not from an old batch.

4. In order to give volume to the batter, urad dal is soaked for a shorter period.

5. Do not use split urad dal, it will not give the required volume to the batter.

6. Do not go stingy on the water, the water proportions that I have mentioned have always given me good results. I do not know how much water would be required to grind the batter in a stone wet grinder as I have never worked with one. But if you use a mixer grinder these water proportions should work fine. Still, it is always good to add water gradually, since the quality of rice and dal differs.

7. During the winters if you want to batter to ferment quicker, you can add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp baking soda or powder to the batter, before fermenting it, i.e. in step 6.

  8. Fenugreek does 3 things- Helps in fermentation. It gives a nice aroma to the batter which in turn passes to the aroma of the idli and dosa. Imparts a nice golden color to the dosas.

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Regards,

Freda

 

19 comments

  1. Vidya Narayan says:

    I absolutely loved reading the recipe. Excellent detailing and yes, idlis even though sound so simple, need these tricks and tips to be perfect and spongy. My version is similar, except I don’t add any poha. That pic of the fermented batter overflowing just took my breath away. Simple pleasures of life! Cheers!

  2. Laura says:

    Thanks, Freda, for the lesson on idlis, and decryption of Southern Indian food, of which I have no knowledge! I enjoy understanding regional cuisines and how to cook them. Now I’m on a mission to find a restaurant to serve idlis to me. Wish me luck!

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